To Taiwan director Chung Mong-hong, the purpose of filmmaking is telling the particular story that he wants to tell, rather than thinking about how to surpass himself with the next project.
“If all you can think about is whether you can beat yourself, life would be too harsh,” the director quips.
Hence Chung wants the audience to view his latest offering “The Falls,” which is premiered at the Horizons section at the Venice Film Festival followed by an appearance at the Toronto International Film Festival, not as an ambitious follow-up of “A Sun,” the internationally acclaimed drama feature that melted the hearts of many critics and was shortlisted for best international feature film at the Oscars earlier this year. But rather, as a human story that he hopes will serve as a reminder of what’s important in life.
Set against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, “The Falls,” starring Gingle Wang (“Detention”) and Alyssa Chia (“The World Between Us”), depicts how an unexpected home quarantine can take a strained relationship between a mother and a daughter on a different direction.
“To me, this film is not about the pandemic, or the virus,” Chung tells Variety. “The pandemic is only a backdrop. I want to make a film about the search for something that we have long lost or forgotten, like trust, tolerance. Those really good, precious things in life that have gone missing.”
Chung initially learned about the story from an old friend in Costa Rica. Making a film out of this story was not on top of his mind initially. But as he thought it through, he started piecing the details together.
“In Chinese society, there’s an indescribable distance between father and son. But the relationship between a mother and her children can be so intimate that it can hurt,” says the director.
Chung then began co-writing the script with Chang Yao-Sheng. The casting of the two female leads, says the director, was a big gamble as it was based on just their pictures, but the risks were paid off. “I needed to find faces that could impress the audience enough to make them care about the characters,” he says.
Although the film is set in Taiwan against the backdrop of the pandemic, COVID-19 did not have an impact on the project’s production, which began in September 2020. Chung is also the film’s director of photography. “We didn’t have to wear a face mask at all. People were still roaming around, gathering for dinners. Our lives were not affected at all.”
But resisting for nearly 18 months, the pandemic hit Taiwan in May 2021 with the arrival of the delta variant. By then the film’s post-production was nearly completed.
Born in Taiwan in 1965, Chung made his debut in 2006 with the documentary “The Doctor.” His first dramatic feature “Parking” was released in 2008, followed by “The Fourth Portrait” (2010), “Soul” (2013) and “Godspeed” (2016). His 2019 “A Sun” swept across the Golden Horse Awards bagging six awards including best narrative features, best director and best original screenplay.
Being able to present his new film at two of the world’s most important film festivals means a lot. It is not just about showcasing a film from Taiwan on a global stage, but finding out how a western audience feels about an Asian story.
“In most cases, only a local audience can understand a local film’s story and emotions. Foreign audiences may not feel anything,” he notes. “But I want to know if audiences from the west would share the values and emotions in this story.”
Taiwan has been actively marketing its films and other creative output internationally in recent years. “There are more platforms and channels that can carry Taiwan films. But we need to ask ourselves: are our films universal and international enough to attract buyers and the audience? Are our films good enough?” the director asks.
“Filmmakers like Edward Yang and Hou Hsiao-hsien garnered a great deal of international attention. But that era is over,” Chung says. “Taiwan films must be strong if they want to be in the global spotlight again.”
“The Falls” was initially scheduled for an Oct. 8 release in Taiwan but it has been postponed to the end of October because of the pandemic.
Chung has already begun working on his next project, a drama feature set in the 1950s of Taiwan during the early days of Kuomintang’s rule of the island after it fled the mainland from the Communist Party in 1949.
“I’m still working on the script and we hope that we can produce it next year. This film will cost a lot of money and I’m feeling a little anxious. Film financing in Taiwan is not easy,” the director says, without revealing a lot of details about the new project. “But I feel that this story is worth telling.”